My First Bouchercon: Notes From a Newbie

Okay, I cannot promise this report will be riveting, but I want to get everything down before my addled brain starts resorting my memories of Bouchercon 47, a massive mystery convention that took place in New Orleans this year, Sept 14-18.

Weds: We hate flying, so we drove down. Insane, I know, but we were giddy at the prospect of a genuine road trip. America and all. We got a late start, circling Fairfax a few times because of last minute errands, gassing up, etc. At one point I remarked to my husband that it felt like we were in a bad twilight zone episode. This is us at a fricking Cracker Barrel, we were so happy to get just a little bit down I-81.


We made it to Athens, TN before we stopped for the night. We were vibrating.

Thurs: Mostly on I-59, which is wonderful. I remembered that when I was a kid, I hated highways that were long, green, and sign-free. Now it’s a rare treat. Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and then this hopeful sight:


We missed the opening ceremonies parade but made it to the conference hotel on Canal Street just before dinner time. At the center of the hotel lobby was the bar, which was insanely noisy and crawling with writers. The bell men were even joking about it.

Dean collapsed in the room while I checked into the con. Basic conference swag included 6 free books of my choosing, a BIG program, a little program, a cool bag that puts your AWP tote to shame, a brilliant T-Shirt, an awesome coffee travel cup, and probably some other stuff that I forgot or gave away.

That night, after catching some of the awards ceremonies, we went down to the lobby bar where I found myself face to face with Joe. R. Lansdale. Mr. Lansdale is my hero, and I read all of his books, eventually. I’m usually 3 behind. Anyway, there he was and I said, “Wha!” To which he politely said, “Wha?” I proceeded to gush about how great he is, how great the Hap & Leonard  TV adaptation is, and then I introduced him to my husband. Mr. Lansdale was super gracious but had to get the hell away from me, pronto. After he left I realized I’d failed to introduce myself.

I saw him a couple of other times at the conference, but I made sure to hide. I saw Walter Mosley, too. Another of my heroes. I hid from him too, just to be on the safe side.

Fri: Panels, the Aquarium, eating little meat pies, hanging around the book room, and otherwise poking around the hotel. This from the 41st floor:



That evening, the Bouchercon 2nd line. It was raining on and off, so we watched and encouraged rather than marched.



I think we started the journey thinking we’d have wild nights on Frenchmen Street, as we usually do, but we were beat. Friday was the day Dean said, “Let this trip be this trip.”


We did not go to the Anthony Awards that night, but we were hugely happy to hear that Art Taylor won for his editorial work on Murder Under the Oaks. And I think he was happy that we’d driven down, so we could carry back his trophy, which was this wheel sized wooden plaque. Not Airplane friendly.

Sat: The day of our panel, “On the Other Side of The World.” We had nothing more to go on, so moderator Rochelle Staab decided that we would discuss the most unusual features of our works and characters, and with expert wit she guided the conversation beautifully. The panelists, left to right: Rochelle, Steph Post (who hooked me up with Pandamoon Publishing in the first place!!), Lisa Preston, Me, and Sarah Smith.


Rochelle ended the session with a little game whereby she read out a quote from each of our books and asked the audience to guess which author had written it. I was guessed twice before my quote came around:

Did you know that every piece of jewelry is an apology, and that every apology is really a boast?

This is a line from a letter that a jeweler writes to a corrupt lawyer, whom he vaguely accuses of murder before advising him to grab the cursed emerald and disappear into history. I was realy pleased that she chose this line—it’s one that I’m proud to have written—but I was even more thrilled later when, at the signing table, Rochelle introduced me to Hank Phillippi Ryan by repeating the quote to her.

Another fun moment on the panel was when we started riffing on a mystery based on the hotel’s overly confusing elevator system.

I met one other interesting person—though I did not realize it at the time. A very glamorous writer was seated next to me at the signing table, and she drew all kinds of fans who LOVED her books, which were Hollywood mysteries. Turns out, she knows a lot about Hollywood mysteries. She was Kathryn Leigh Scott, who has been in TONS of things you’ve seen, but is best known for her role as—wait for it—Maggie Evans in the original Dark Shadows series. She was in 319 episodes, dammit.

Dark Shadows was very important to me growing up, but I’m so glad I didn’t know who she was while we were chatting, given my previous behavior with Lansdale and Mosley.

That afternoon I made one more pass through the book room, which was slow because everyone was at the Blood on the Bayou signing. That’s when I picked up even more swag, including these:


Some writer was swanning through with a purse full of Jack, and the proprietor of Scene of the Crime Books proclaimed her his new best friend. I really wish I knew who she was. I want to buy her books.

We hit the road after that, so we could get home by late Sunday. The drive back was significantly more challenging as we were met with bouts of heavy rain and fog. And after spending so much time with mystery writers, we were definitely in a mood, as evidenced by the creeping terror we felt when we stopped at an Alabama rest station at dusk. It was still misting with rain, and there were no other cars in the parking lot. As we walked up to the building, we saw a man in a khaki work uniform standing outside, staring into the tree line as if he was very concerned. I tried to say hello, but it was as if he couldn’t see me.

The building was deserted, with sickly yellow light bouncing off the tiles. Also, it was already decorated for Halloween, with straw bundles and “cheerful” scarecrow and ghost cutouts taped to the walls, like the beginning to every slasher flick ever filmed. Our steps echoed, and we nervously giggled about how the decorations really cheered the place up. When we left, the sentinel caretaker had moved to a different spot but was still staring into the trees. Another couple had arrived, and when they passed us they seemed ridiculously relieved to see us.

In the car, I asked Dean, “Did you see the attendant? What’s up with him?”

And Dean said, “You mean the Confederate ghost?”

Sunday: Looong day of hard driving, bad weather, and truck traffic. The hours stretched, as they say. Our last stop before the final push for home was at a truck stop. I haven’t been to one in years, but it struck me that it was a lot like a university campus, with its same intimacy and lost island feel, except that the inhabitants were older, stranger, and possibly trapped in time.

Like I said, we were in a mood. Pulling out, we saw this:


All in all, a very rewarding but sometimes weird trip. I’m definitely planning on Toronto. Here’s the book haul, with puppies, who were happy to have us back home:





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One thought on “My First Bouchercon: Notes From a Newbie

  1. Art Taylor says:

    Thanks for the shout-out here—and the fun recap! And I did appreciate the delivery services, but more than that, wish we’d had more time together in New Orleans! (Not that I can’t see you here at home too, of course, but…..)

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